John J. Tyler says he loves the sea. He'd better. As the harbor master of the Ventura Port District, he's right next to it all day.
Tyler's domain--known simply as the Ventura Harbor--is a 274-acre combination of water and land that is home port for more than 1,600 sail and powerboats and about three dozen commercial sportfishing vessels.
"I'm always dealing with something different," ssaid the 53-year-old Tyler, who said no two days have ever been the same since he hired on 11 years ago. "Whether it be dealing with a boat owner, enforcing local ordinances or walking with my harbor patrol officers, it's never routine.
"Besides," said Tyler, turning his office chair toward the view of Pierpont Bay, "how can you complain about a view like this?"
Pretty ocean view aside, in Tyler's line of work he is required to have a knowledge of the sea as well as office management and public relations skills. And though he exudes warmth and charm, as chief law enforcement officer for the harbor, this is one guy you probably wouldn't want to cross.
Explaining that the harbor is a microcosm of society, Tyler said that whatever crime there is in the city, it usually, sometimes with slight modifications, can be found at the harbor. And if it is, it becomes a problem for him and his harbor patrol crew of 11. He cited one example: driving under the influence. Not driving automobiles, boats.
"It's a very serious crime," he said. "A lot of people don't realize they can't drive a boat when they're drunk, but it's the same offense as driving a car." He figures that about half of all boating mishaps are in some way connected to alcohol consumption. But only about four arrests--the low number is due, he said, to the difficulty of spotting an intoxicated captain--are made each year at Ventura Harbor.
Other crimes Tyler and his men pursue range from people living on their boats without proper permits--the craft must be seaworthy and be equipped with a toilet that won't pump the waste into the water--to graffiti, marital disputes and, as crazy as it may sound, the constant theft of toilet paper in the onshore public restrooms. "We have one guy who is on duty all weekend just keeping the commodes clean and replacing toilet paper," he said.
For serious crimes, such as drugs and smuggling, Tyler said he would rather see other law enforcement agencies, customs or the Coast Guard--all of whom, unlike his men, carry weapons--actually make arrests.
Those are the illegal hassles. Tyler said his other headache is the boaters who aren't sure what they are doing when they bring their equipment into the harbor.
"They do things like back the boat trailer down the ramp to launch it," he said, "only to forget to set the hand brake."
Keeping order inside the harbor is only half of the harbor master's job. Ventura's four patrol boats regularly head out in a three-mile radius of the harbor mouth in answer to distress calls.
In 1989, Tyler said, there were 312 such calls, mostly mechanical failures--boats running out of gas or getting stuck due to lack of wind. Of that number, 219 were towed back to port--gratis--by the harbor patrol. But there were serious problems as well, including seven incidents of vessels taking on water and one of a person having a heart attack.
Tyler, a native of Los Angeles, has been around the sea since he enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1953 at the age of 17. So he knows that problems come with the territory.
Spending 14 of his 20 service years in search and rescue operations, he said he was fortunate to be billeted to some pleasant places including San Pedro, Newport Beach, the Channel Islands and Honolulu. Then there were the not-so desirable tours of duty, such as Vietnam in 1968 and 1969.
Retiring from the service in 1973, Tyler, then 37, felt it was time to get into another line of work. So he and a partner went into the long-haul trucking business. Seven months and many truckloads of air conditioners, tools and bleach later, the 1974 recession hit at the same time that fuel prices skyrocketed. He left trucking to hire on as dockmaster of a local marina.
Other jobs followed, including one as a milkman in the late 1970s--"I was in good physical shape. Milkmen don't walk, they run"--and another stint in trucking. That's when he spotted the job of his dreams.
"There it was," he said, "a job for a harbor master. I gave them my resume on Wednesday, interviewed Friday and started on Monday." It pleased Barbara, his wife of 33 years, who, he said, was never too fond of the trucking business.
"It's important that the boat owners have a sense of dealing with someone who knows what they're talking about. And Tyler has that," said his boss, Ventura Port District General Manager Richard Parsons, 46.
Boat owner Tom Shaw, 45, agrees, even after being pulled over by one of the harbor patrol officers for exceeding the 5 m.p.h. harbor speed limit.
"He's trained his patrol officers to be courteous but firm," Shaw said.